With Open Arms
Sweat trickled down his sides. Grunting, he shifted his legs. I can do this. I can! Wes shifted his grip, his eyes focused straight forward, then pulled.
“Yes, yes, yes! That’s it. Not just with your arms now, lock your knees. Lock them!” Lake stood beside him and his assistant, Bailey, moved the wheelchair back a foot or two to give Wes room to move. She stayed ready to push his chair under him if it looked like he was going to fall.
But Wes wasn’t going to fall. He stared at Doug who was staring right back at him. Wes shifted his hands forward and pushed hard, sliding his right foot forward about eight inches. He stood panting for a few seconds and then repeated the slow step with his left leg. Every inch gained was hard fought for as Wes struggled to walk the end of the bars where Doug stood waiting, his eyes shining.
Sweat broke out on Wes' forehead and he ignored it, keeping his eyes on the one thing that had kept him going all this time, even when he’d tried to deny it. His arms were held open for Wes, patiently letting him take the first steps toward freedom on his own. Wes knew what he was going to do with it too as he made his way resolutely to those waiting arms.
Brakes squealed. Wes cranked his head to the right, looking toward the source of the sound. He saw headlights coming straight for his car from the on ramp to the highway. Thank god Doug couldn't go on this hike. Wes had no more time to think before the impact to his passenger side door spun his car around, throwing him against the suddenly tight seat belt. The thought crossed his mind that it was strange that he could hear the rapid pounding of his heart over the sound of metal on metal. His eyes widened in horror as he stared straight into bright headlights coming right at him.
The sound of sirens was the next thing he heard. The smell of hot metal and blood filled his beloved old car. His heart was pounding and all he could feel was pain. He felt heavy and his body felt like it was throbbing in time with his heartbeat. Even breathing hurt. Wes groaned and tried to move, freezing when he heard a voice speaking behind him.
“No sir, please don’t try to move.”
“What? Who are …?” Wes tried to take a breath and groaned.
“My name is Alec; I’m a firefighter. You’ve been in a car accident. I need you to hold still while we try to get you out of the car, okay?”
“Yeah." Wes tried to wiggle his toes and moaned at the pain. "My legs hurt.”
“I know, I'm sorry. You’re pinned in your seat. The rescue truck is pulling up and we’ll have you out of here in no time. I need you to try and stay with me. Talk to me."
Wes closed his eyes, shutting out the bright lights and the sight of a fireman with a really big saw. He jerked when metal screamed as his door was cut off and firefighters stepped up to look at the way he was pinned. Wes panted at the sharp pain and whimpered.
"Don't worry on them. Focus on my voice and staying still. Tell me your name?”
"Wesley, Wes." He closed his eyes and concentrated on blocking out as much as he could.
Wes took short breaths while the crews went to work with the heavy duty machinery. The sound of the saw on the metal of the car body made him cringe and close his eyes, but every time he did the memory of those white lights and the cars slamming together flashed through his mind. Tears slid down his cheeks and he fought the feelings of helplessness and panic. Alec talked to him the whole time, telling him what everyone was doing and trying to reassure him.
It felt like an eternity before extra hands were reaching for him to finally get him out of the car. He screamed from the pain of the move as they were only able to support his back and neck when they tried to carefully maneuver him from the mangled wreckage. They were lowering him to the ground when his body went limp and he stopped screaming. He wasn’t unconscious but he wasn’t really all there either. Everything was covered in a hazy fog.
"Hurry up and get him on the backboard before he wakes back up!" the scene commander ordered. They were careful but quickly hurried to finish getting him safely secured onto the rigid backboard. Two to each side, they lifted him onto the stretcher. The paramedics moved in, strapping him down.
Alec passed along what information he had gotten from Wes and they loaded him into the waiting ambulance. The other two cars had their own groups of emergency personnel surrounding them and there were several patrol cars with their lights flashing, redirecting traffic and taking witness statements. Wes faded out completely as the chaos faded behind them.
The radio at the hospital beeped and the front desk clerk reached over to grab the mic. "LVH, go ahead."
A slightly garbled voice came from the speakers as she waited with a blank chart. "Unit 15 en route with a multiple MVA victim, late 20s. Possible spinal injuries, obvious fracture to the right lower leg, suspected left leg fracture. Ten milligrams of morphine administered via IV, blood pressure at 150 over 90, pulse 110, respiration shallow and rapid. ETA is five minutes."
"Roger that, Unit 15. We'll be ready." Sarah was already standing up and grabbing the phone. Dialing a few buttons, her voice went through the intercom system. "Incoming code blue, Dr. Tramblay to the ER please. Incoming code blue."
Nidawi came rushing over to the desk. "What's coming?"
Sarah handed her the chart. Nidawi read the notes and then looked up. Several nurses were standing ready and she could see Dr. Tramblay coming down the long green hall from the lounge. "Lee, Nikki, go prep trauma one." She handed the doctor the chart and began handing out gowns and gloves to the other nurses still waiting.
The doctor looked up and started issuing orders, "Call down to Radiology and let them know we've an emergency coming in and need the portable x-ray machine brought up. This guy may need surgery right away and I don't want to go in the OR blind. Also, call Daniels over in Ortho." The ER erupted into a flurry of activity as everyone got ready. When the ambulance arrived everyone went smoothly into motion and focused on the patient.
The paramedics updated them with Wes' current status and then got out of the way. Dr. Tramblay was calm, ordering the interns and nurses in a deceptively crazy frenzy. Wes regained consciousness in the middle of his exam and the doctor looked over at Nidawi. She hurried around to his head and leaned down.
"Hi Wes, I'm Nidawi. Do you know where you are?"
Wes stared up at her then gasped in pain as hands touched his legs. They felt like they were on fire through the dull haze of the pain medicine. "The hospital?"
"That's right. You're at LVH."
"I was in an accident," Wes said slowly.
"That's right. What I need you to do is just stay calm for me, okay? We're going to get you fixed up. "
"I can't move my legs," he said in a small voice. He gasped for breath, his eyes wide in panic as they began to dart around trying to see what was going on as more hands touched him.
"We've got you." Nidawi's hands cradled his head, her face filling his vision. "Dr. Tramblay is taking good care of you. You've broken your legs, which is probably why you can't really move much right now. There's a lot going on but everyone is doing exactly what needs to be done. We'll be taking you down to Radiology for a CT scan in a few minutes and then you'll head upstairs." Her hands pushed his hair out of his face as his eyes continued to roll. "Look at me," she said in a firm voice.
Wes blinked a few times and bit his lip. He tried to take a deep breath and calm down but cried out from the pain in his ribs.
"Small breaths," Nidawi told him, "but try to slow them down." She counted a few breaths with him and the terror faded a little. His eyes focused on hers.
"Okay, I'm okay."
"Can you answer a few questions?"
"Yes." He panted, eyes focused on her face.
"Any past medical history we should be aware of? Medications, allergies?"
"No allergies." Wes whimpered as his leg was moved. His hands clutched at the side of the gurney he was on as he tried not to focus on the pain that seemed to radiate from all over his body. "Prilosec. For a stomach ulcer." Another nurse was writing his answers down while Nidawi kept Wes calm during Dr. Tramblay's exam.
"Is ... Doug here?" he asked. It was getting harder to breathe and talk. He stifled a gasp as someone pushed down on his stomach, asking him if it hurt. "Yes."
Nidawi looked over at the other nurse who shook her head. "Who is Doug?"
"He's my ... partner." Tears ran down Wes' face. "Please call him. I ... need him."
"Don't worry Mr. Erins, we'll call him."
"Alright people, let's get him moving."
Wes looked toward the doctor as they wheeled his gurney out of the trauma room. He hoped the guy was good. Nidawi walked with them, bending over to get Wes' attention as they headed for the elevators at the end of the hall. "This is just more tests. Just stay calm for me, okay?" Wes looked up at her face, staying focused on her brown eyes for as long as he could. He just had to hold it together until Doug got there.
The taste in Wes' mouth was atrocious. He ran his tongue over his teeth and swallowed a few times. He grimaced at how dry and swollen his tongue felt, as if it was twice its normal size. He continued with his mental inventory, trying to move and finding several important body parts that wouldn't obey his mental commands. His eyes fluttered open in panic.
"Wes? Are you awake? Are you in pain?"
Wes groaned. "Everything hurts," he said in a raspy voice. "I can't move."
"I know babe. I'll call the nurse." Doug leaned over his battered body and pressed a button on the bed.
"Yes?" A man's voice came through the speaker.
"I'll be right there."
Doug sat back down and picked back up Wes' hand, being careful not to pull on the IV. "I've been so worried." Tears were rolling down his face as he stared down at their linked hands.
"I'm sorry," Wes said in a small voice.
"It's not your fault! You didn't cause the accident. The police came by to talk to you but you were still out from the surgery. They wouldn't say much, but they did tell me that."
Wes closed his eyes in relief. He remembered why he was there, and that he had been in an accident, but he couldn't remember how or why it happened. He opened his eyes and looked at Doug. "I love you."
A male nurse knocked on the door, interrupting them before Doug could say anything. "Mr. Erins, it's good to see you talking. I'm your nurse, Ted."
"My throat hurts and my mouth tastes awful," Wes said. His voice was a harsh croak.
"Probably from the intubation during your surgery. I can get you some ice chips and Doug can help you with a few mouthfuls to ease the dryness. Can you remember why you're here?" Ted pulled his stethoscope from around his neck and proceeded to gently try to find a section of Wes' chest that wasn't bruised to listen to his lungs.
"I was in a car accident."
"That's right." Ted stood back up and put his scope back around his neck. "You were hurt pretty badly but Dr. Tramblay's team fixed you up. You bruised your lungs which is why you're having a bit of a hard time breathing. We've got you on oxygen so just try to take nice easy breaths through your nose."
"I hurt all over and I can't move." Wes' free hand hovered over the constricting neck brace. "And this thing around my neck doesn't feel good."
"The radiologist didn't see any skeletal injuries in your neck," Ted said, "but the doctor wants to leave the brace on until you're a little more awake and he can examine you. He should be by in a few hours."
"A few hours?" Doug asked. His lips were folded so tight they were almost white.
"Dr. Tramblay's shift was almost over when Mr. Erins came in last night. He stayed hours beyond that to do the surgery. I'm sure he will be in as soon as possible. In the meantime, I can give you some more morphine and those ice chips."
"Why can't I move my legs?"
Ted looked a little uncomfortable. "You broke both of your legs in the accident. Unfortunately until the doctor comes in I just don't have any of these answers you are going to want. He'll be able to answer your questions much more completely than I can."
Wes closed his eyes and sighed a little. Doug squeezed his hand in comfort. "What can I do for you, babe?"
"My throat really hurts," whispered Wes, his eyes still closed. Mostly he just wanted to go back to sleep and wake up and find out the whole thing was just a nightmare brought on by his overly anxious brain.
Ted pushed a few buttons on the pump attached to Wes' IV's and then turned back to the bed. "I'll be right back with those ice chips."
Doug sat quietly while Ted was gone, humming to Wes and stroking his hand. When Ted went to knock on the open door Doug gestured for him to be quiet. Wes had fallen back asleep.
"If he wakes up before they melt go ahead and give him one at a time to suck on, no more than three or four to begin with. Don't let him drink, no matter how much he wants to. If you go down to the nurses' station and turn left the patient kitchen with the ice machine is about halfway down the hall."
"You might not walk again."
The words fell like a death knell. They both stared at the doctor in shock. Wes' mouth was open in disbelief. Doug was still by his side, holding his hand. The doctor gave them a minute to process what he said.
"I thought that Wes just broke his legs," Doug asked, seeing that Wes couldn't talk.
"He did. A comminuted fracture to his left femur and a transverse of his right tibia and fibula. Those injuries combined would present serious obstacles in daily life and rehabilitation but Mr. Erins also sustained a compression injury to his spinal column. That in turn damaged the bundle of nerves in the front of his spinal cord, damaging his ability to control his legs."
"But there's a chance right Dr. Tramblay? That he'll be able to walk again?"
The doctor sighed and closed Wes' chart. "I just don't know. Right now the injury is too new and the swelling might worsen the initial injury. We can't tell how severe the damage will be until it goes down and Mr. Erins is able to start moving around. With two broken legs it could be months before we will know the full extent of his handicap."
Wes began to shake and Doug turned to soothe him. The doctor's face turned red and his nostrils flared as he fidgeted, avoiding looking at the men holding each other. Doug turned his head and glared at the doctor.
"I think we could use some time to get used to this," he said. He ignored the uncomfortable doctor as he left, just thankful that he at least shut the door as he went. Wes was a private man and didn't like it when people watched when he broke down.
"What’s going to happen to me?" Wes asked brokenly.
"You're going to heal and get better." Doug gripped Wes' hand, bringing it up to lay a gentle kiss on the palm. "I'll be with you every step of the way."
"But what if I don't walk again? What if I never take another step?" Wes stared down at his legs, now useless lumps under the white sheet that he couldn't see or feel other than as a painful heaviness.
Doug brushed the hair out of Wes' eyes and caught his gaze, staring at him intently. "You will. One day you'll walk again. We'll go on our hikes and you'll take enough pictures to fill another book. You have to believe that."
Wes didn't say anything but tears dripped down his face.
"I can't take this anymore!" Wes gestured at the four walls of his room. He had left the hospital two weeks before but still couldn't go home. His legs were healing but he was still forced to let the staff of the rehab facility do almost everything for him. "Why can't you just stop worrying about me and just go away!"
"I'm sorry," Doug said calmly. "I know you're upset about not being able to come home but I'm doing what I can to be here for you."
"Nothing! You can do nothing!" Wes snapped. "Why don't you leave me here with all the other cripples? I'm sure you could find plenty of whole men out there while I rot in here."
Doug sighed. "I know you don't mean that. You know that I would never cheat on you, even if you never walk again. I don't care how hard you push me away. You can't make me do something I don't want to do. You're the only man I will ever want to be with."
Wes slapped his hand down on his leg, barely feeling it. "I'm not a man, not like this, stuck in this room and in this bed with strangers wiping my ass. I'm sick of it and I'm sick of you sitting there watching me. I don't want your pity!"
"Oh Wes, I don't pity you; I never have. I love you." Doug reached to touch Wes' hand but he pulled his arm away. Wes turned his face to the window, looking out at the clouds slowly turning golden as the sun fell.
"Go home. Just leave me alone."
Doug let his hand fall away and stood up. "I'll go for now but I will be back Wes. I won't let you give in to self-pity. You're stronger than this. You're going to get better."
Wes didn't say anything and kept his face turned away as Doug left, hating the tears that slipped down his cheeks. There was an overwhelming feeling of panic in his stomach every day he failed to gain more feeling back in his legs. They tingled and were half-numb all the time. He was so afraid that he would never get better, that walking with Doug in the mountains would ever be just a memory for him. They loved spending their days off together where he took the first photographs that made him a household name in landscape photography. Something inside felt broken when he thought that it would be something he did only in his memories.
"Come on now; pull up with your arms. Lift up." Lake slid a sheet covered plank under Wes as he lifted his upper body off the bed by pulling on the overhead trapeze. "Okay, let go with one hand and grab the rail to hold your body up in a sitting position."
Sweat broke out on Wes' brow but he forced himself to do it. He grit his teeth at the effort it took just to stay sitting up on the bed. "Okay, I'm sitting."
Lake smiled at him and buckled the gait belt around his waist quickly. "Now what we are going to do is simple really. I want you to reach over with one hand to the wheelchair's arm and slide along the board until you are in the seat. I'm going to be right behind you while you transfer and Julie will hold your legs."
"Let's do this."
Wes felt off balance and shook a little as he reached for the far armrest of the wheelchair next to his bed. He held it in a fierce grip, his knuckles white. He pulled with that arm and pushed against the bed with his other one, sliding across the polished board to the cushioned seat. He was panting with the effort but the daily pain pills he took dulled the pain in his legs. A lot of the numbness had faded but he still felt stabbing pain every time his legs were moved.
"Good job!" Lake and Julie moved around him putting the legs and armrest back on the chair. "Let's get you settled." Julie propped his legs up on pillows and covered him with a lap blanket.
"Thanks." Wes couldn't believe how good it felt to be sitting up in the wheelchair. He had sat up in bed but this was different. He put his hands down on the wheels.
"Here are the brakes." Julie pulled his hands down and showed him how to work the simple levers.
"I don't want you to overdo it this first time," Lake said, "but you can stay in your chair until after lunch. Then we'll get you back into bed the same way."
"Thanks." Wes looked longingly out the window and then back at the TV where some boring daytime TV game show was playing.
"I'll come back around one." Lake grabbed the transfer board and left the room leaving Julie and Wes alone.
"Lunch should be ready in about forty five minutes," Julie told him as she was stripped his bed and quickly worked to remake it with clean sheets.
"Sounds good," Wes said. The rehab center food was at least better than Doug's cooking he would have if he were at home. He did miss the view of the mountains from their front porch though. "Can you take me outside?"
Julie looked toward the door. "Actually, I think someone else is here to do that."
Wes' snapped his head around. Doug stood in the doorway with Wes' sunglasses and favorite hat in his hands. "Lake told me he was getting you up today. Can I interest you in a little stroll?" he asked casually. His shoulders were hunched a little though, waiting to see if Wes was in a bad mood and would snap at him again.
Wes looked down at his hands and then back up at Doug. "Yeah," he said quietly.
Doug walked into the room and settled Wes' hat on his head. He leaned down and carefully slid the sunglasses on Wes' face, taking the time to kiss him gently on the lips. "I missed you."
"I missed you too," Wes whispered. He reached up and touched Doug's face. Wes had been trying to drive Doug away for weeks but he was secretly glad that Doug came back even though he was being an asshole to him. His fear of losing Doug had overwhelmed him as the idea grew that he'd never be the same again. Long hours spent alone in his room with only his fear for company made him lash out frequently.
Doug shook his head. "Nothing to be sorry for." He moved around to grasp the handles of the wheelchair. "Now, let's take you outside. It's a beautiful day and the center has a great pond and rose garden."
Wes took a deep breath as soon as they went through the outside door. It had rained overnight and the sun hadn't yet dried out the damp ground. The smell of the warm breeze and the recently cut grass was better than anything he could remember smelling before. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sun beating down through the trees.
"This feels so good."
"Yes it does." Doug rubbed his shoulder, bending down to kiss his cheek. Silently he began pushing him along the cement walkway toward the small pond. "I think there are even some koi in here." He pushed the wheelchair over to a bench and Wes locked the wheels. Doug took a seat on the bench and they both sat silently for a little while, lost in their own thoughts.
"I'm sorry," Wes said softly," for trying to push you away." He thought back over the last few weeks and all the pain he’d caused Doug. Every day the man came and every day Wes had yelled at him, throwing up walls and refusing to believe that Doug would stick around no matter what. He wanted to push the man away before he left on his own.
“I was afraid you’d change your mind and not want a cripple like me.” He hesitantly reached over to where Doug's hands were folded in his lap and laced their hands together, a tentative link back to the man he desperately loved and feared to lose the most.
"You’re not a cripple. Even if you don’t walk again, you would never be a cripple to me." Doug tightened his grip, folding his fingers around Wes' hand. "I always knew you didn't mean it. You just needed someone safe to yell at; someone you knew deep down wouldn't leave no matter what. I knew it was just a matter of time before you'd realize that."
Wes stared up at the sky, watching a bird flying overhead. It flapped its wings several times and then soared gracefully on the warm air thermals with the sleek black wings extended. He envied the bird a little, the freedom it had to soar wild in the sky.
"I think you're right. I was just so afraid. That I would be a cripple, that you wouldn't want me. That I'd never walk with you in the mountains or make love in our special spot." Doug made a rude sound and Wes smiled. "I can feel more now. The doctor said that I should be able to start rehab to learn how to use my legs again in a few weeks."
"I know," said Doug simply. "Lake told me when I called."
Wes looked down at the pond and the brightly colored fish swimming among the lily roots. "I can't guarantee I won't hurt you again. They said that it might take a long time and I might never be back to normal like everyone else."
"I don't care what is normal for everyone else. We'll make it work."
"I might never be able to walk well enough to take pictures in the mountains again though." Wes blinked the tears in his eyes away. He wouldn't feel sorry for himself anymore. He would be stronger than that.
"We'll find new places for you to walk, new wildernesses for you to explore," Doug assured him.
"Are you sure you want to do this with me?"
Doug turned on the bench and used his free hand to turn Wes' face toward him. "I'll be here for every step along the way. Whatever you need from me, you have it."
"Just for you to love me," Wes whispered.
This time he couldn't blink away the tears and they fell down his face. He leaned over and kissed Doug a little desperately. Their lips and teeth smacked together almost hard enough to bruise. Doug’s hands came up to curl around Wes’ neck and he pulled back a little. Not far enough to stop, but the kiss turned gentle, their lips moving slowly against each other. Doug pulled back and pressed their foreheads together, staring deeply in Wes' eyes.
This story was one of the hardest, and the easiest for me to write. Not a month after I got married I was in a car accident where we were hit by a drunk driver. Thankfully my spine was fine and I only shattered one leg, but many of the details you saw in this are ones I directly experienced. In that way, it was easy to make it realistic, but that brought back quite a bit of a time in my life that was understandably not my best. My poor hubby of just 3 weeks had to put up with quite a lot from me and I'll always be thankful that he meant for better or for worse, even if we didn't expect that to happen quite so soon! LOL